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Happy Mooooooother’s Day

Although I’m taking a year off to spend more time with my girls this season, it’s starting to look like a farm again up here on the hill. With just the right amount of rain lately (I knew we’d have the perfect season on my year off), the pasture looks amazing. And just in time to prevent it from getting out of control, we had six studly steers dropped off this week to help keep those pastures mowed.

Even more exciting, friends/longtime farm helpers Pat and Taryn will be using the garden area to grow flowers for a flower CSA and to sell at the farmers market under the name Wild Poppy Farm. I would LOVE to see this fledgling operation take off, as it’s been my dream NOT to try to manage this farm on my own. You can support them, the sustainability of Potter Hill Farm, AND get a wicked sweet Mother’s Day present by purchasing a summer flower CSA via this link. They’ve been hard at work up here the last couple weeks weeding, planting, and helping me complete a few of those long-desired/overdue projects you can only accomplish when not working 100 hours a week!

I did hint at some farm ramblings to come but between a sporadic computer charging cable and many, many walks in the woods taking advantage of this nice weather, it’s been hard to find time to write. But I do hope to be back in touch somewhat regularly. We did have a recent happening on the farm that set itself up for an amusing newsletter, but I’ll save that tale for another day. Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers, especially my own and my babies’ Mama! 😘

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Sabbatical Year

“And that’s why I’m taking a year off” I dejectedly said to my neighbor who rescued me from yet another farming pickle I got myself into. Hey y’all! Your favorite (former?) farmer back in your inbox after a little hiatus. Although it still feels like winter out there, I can feel the warmth of the sun calling me out of my annual hibernation. However, this season I’m resisting that call! The (very long) entertaining (for you, not me!) story below is a microcosm of my farming experience the past couple years. 2020 was my fifth season running the farm on my own, which included the two driest seasons on record, as well as the wettest season on record. If mother nature has a sense of humor, this will be the most perfect growing season ever…though I don’t really see that as the direction we’re headed.

For a variety of reasons that I hope to expound on in future newsletters (labor, farm economics, and weather being the big three), I’ve been unable to make farming not fully life consuming. SO, I’ve decided to take a year off from intensive farming this season to spend more time with my girls…before they grow up way too fast. When parents of older kids almost universally tell you that it goes by in a blink of their (often teary) eye while watching my littles run free, I figure I should probably listen. I always assumed a young farmer would come along, become a partner in the farm, and lighten my load. That partner never materialized, and I can’t keep it going as is on my own anymore without missing these precious moments.

A big THANKS to y’all for all your dedication and support through the years! If you know me, you know I didn’t make this decision lightly. I’ve dedicated seven years of my life to this farm and its soil, and hope that it and I will be revitalized in the near future. Now back to the story!

“And that’s why I’m taking a year off” I dejectedly said to my neighbor who rescued me from yet another farming pickle I got myself into. He found me desperately clinging to the plastic covering my high tunnel that was wildly flapping around in the wind (that came out of nowhere!) It was getting toward mid-December, and I had been watching the weather for weeks to find the perfect day to remove the wind torn plastic.

Despite getting the top of the line model high tunnel named The Nor’easter, it was no match for real Nor’easters and the relentless west wind that rubbed holes on the peak where each arch touches the plastic. I crawled along the peak (not fun, nor safe) numerous times to try to patch the holes, but to no avail. Below the compromised layers of plastic were some still gorgeous greens that I hadn’t been able to give up on. But that day was the day I had been waiting for.

It had been a relatively still day, as far as those go on the top of this hill, but still too windy for working with (effectively) a 4,000 square foot sail. The wind was supposed to cease at 4pm, giving us an hour of so of daylight to get the job done. I arranged for reinforcements to arrive by 4, but the wind completely died down by 3 and I decided to get a head start. Since the plastic was only damaged along the peak, the plan was to cut it right down the middle so that I could reuse it for a smaller future tunnel. It felt weird to be undoing something I had spent a year planning, a second year executing said plan, and then far too much time and energy maintaining….and yet oddly satisfying as the work progressed quicker and easier than I thought possible. I even stopped to take a picture!

Only a few minutes after this picture, on an otherwise sunny day, a dark ominous cloud (perhaps the one pictured?) covered up the sun and the wind kicked up out of nowhere. All of a sudden, I was up in the rafters holding onto the wildly flapping plastic instead of peacefully cutting it. During a very brief lull, I swung to the middle of the cut to get more leverage and that’s when the wind REALLY picked up. I remember having the distinct thought of ‘well, this is fitting’ as I was holding on for dear life. After some serious rodeoing, I had a brief window of opportunity to call for help…but of course I had left my phone on some boards back where I stopped cutting the plastic. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I decided to go for it, swinging back and calling all the neighbors.

Fortunately my next door neighbor/landlord answered and happened to be at home (thanks COVID), and for once I had put my clamps (to pin down the plastic) back where they belonged. With my head above the plastic, I resisted yelling “RUN” as I watched him briskly walk to the garage to get the clamps. The rest was a blur as I swung from arch to arch, with him handing me clamps as I went. As I swung down, bloodied, bruised and aching all over, I muttered the “and that’s why I’m taking a year off” line knowing that my work that day was far from over. Having saved the day, and with skilled reinforcements arriving in a few minutes, I thanked my neighbor and sent him on his way.

Amazingly, the wind completely stopped blowing right at 4 as forecasted while the sun started setting. Like, zero wind – a very rare occurrence on the hill, which made an enormous project much easier. Still we needed every bit of light, plus an hour of headlamp light to finish up. And as you can see, we still had lots of greens left to harvest, which we pretty much accomplished with one monster harvest the next morning. I was thrilled to finally check ‘remove plastic’ off the list, but harvesting was MUCH colder without that top!

Thanks for reading y’all! Hopefully it warms up soon – in like a lion out like a lamb right? Whenever it does warm up, come on up and visit!

Paul

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Finale 2020 Style

In true 2020 fashion, it looks like we’ll just get one more harvest in before an epic cold snap preceded by another N’oreaster. I’ve been watching next week’s forecast continually deteriorate the last couple of days. Thursday’s forecasted low has steadily dropped from 16 to 10, and Wednesday looks like up to a foot of snow, so I have a pretty tight window to wrap up 2020. The last two things on my to do list are clear the delicious greens from the tunnel and cut/remove the plastic. You can help me with the first task by loading up on your greens, specifically kale and lettuce. Both will keep for a couple weeks in your fridge so you can add some color to your holiday meals!

The second task is going to be a doozy. I’ve been wrestling with the decision for months, but Mother Nature made the decision for me via the last two wind storms. Despite its name, the N’oreaster model high tunnel I purchased (only two years ago) is no match for real N’oreasters on the top of Potter Hill. It started out as a few holes in the plastic, but there are now holes at the peak of each (24 of them) hoop! I’ve army crawled across the **** thing too many times patching them up, but the plastic is beyond repair at this point. I’ll have to cut the plastic, leaving it open for the winter and decide what to do about it come spring.

Although the tunnel structure has taken more than its share of punches, the greens inside are spoiled rotten, delicious and gorgeous as you can see from the above picture from a customer. And still very much abundant unfortunately (fortunately?). If we’re really going to clear it all out before we take it down, it’s going to take your best greens eating effort to do so. Load up! Oh, and yes there are plenty of roots to balance out the greens.

And finally, if the online ordering system is giving you trouble or you’re just feeling lazy, but you still want your dose of fresh veggies, just reply to this email to claim a $25 bag. It will roughly have 2lbs each of carrot, potatoes, and onions, plus 2 heads of lettuce and 2 bunches of kale.

Veggie Ordering and Pickup Procedures: Put your veggie orders in online before 8pm Sunday. The website is a little buggy so if you don’t see a wide variety of items or you see items out of stock, try refreshing your browser. Also confirm on checkout that you have the correct number of each item in your cart. The two pickup windows are working well, so we’ll keep it going. Choose your pickup window while checking out online: 1230-2pm and 4-5pm Monday on the farm at 64 Potter Hill Rd in Grafton. Pickups are in the long white garage on the left across from the beat up tan and red barn at the crest of the hill.

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Full

Hope y’all had a nice Thanksgiving. Like many of you I’m sure, we had a pretty quiet but delicious meal. Although she was just cooking for me and the girls, my mother-in-law went all out with a 17 pound turkey and the full lineup of fixings. Needless to say, we were all quite full and still have plenty of turkey in the freezer.

Hopefully some Potter Hill veggies graced your table too! I’m glad we made it all the way to Thanksgiving (and then some?) this year. That Halloween snowstorm and deep freeze put a damper on the Thanksgiving bounty we usually have available, but we’ve made the most of the kinder weather since. The variety may be a bit heavier on the less familiar items, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it’s introduced many of you to things like fall/winter’s pineapple: celeriac (looks not flavor, though it’s quite delicious too). We have a lot of it out in the field still, and it’s unclear how much longer we can keep it out there, so it’s time to getting eatin’. Celeriac mashed potatoes, celeriac latkes, celeriac gratin, in soups, or just roasted on its own or with other roots – it’s all good!

We seem to be on an advantageous weather pattern of warm (relative) harvest days (Monday and Saturday) and a deep chill during the week. Another Monday in the 50s this week, so we’re taking advantage! I decided it’s time to start picking our final planting of carrots. They had a rough go, but they’ve finally sized up just enough to harvest them for baby carrots and they are sweet! Very limited thanks to a deluge that washed most of the seed away in August. And the weeds. And the deer. And the Halloween snow storm. Maybe “rough go” was an understatement.

The lettuce from the tunnel looks fantastic, the kale is gorgeous (and VERY abundant so stock up!), and the swiss chard is the sweetest it’ll be all season. Make room in the fridge – you don’t want to miss one of the last weeks of fresh eating!

Veggie Ordering and Pickup Procedures: Put your veggie orders in online before 8pm Sunday. The website is a little buggy so if you don’t see a wide variety of items or you see items out of stock, try refreshing your browser. Also confirm on checkout that you have the correct number of each item in your cart. The two pickup windows are working well, so we’ll keep it going. Choose your pickup window while checking out online: 1230-2pm and 4-5pm Monday on the farm at 64 Potter Hill Rd in Grafton. Pickups are in the long white garage on the left across from the beat up tan and red barn at the crest of the hill.

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Shorts Weather

My weather app tells me it got down to 17 Wednesday night – brrrrrr! We saw it coming though and harvested a bunch of roots ahead of time. We covered the greens and what we couldn’t fit in storage, even though everything outside had already survived 17 degrees (barely, and with a snow blanket). This time there was no threat of snow, and it felt very luxurious to be harvesting and covering ahead of a big freeze in the high 40s with a mild wind on Tuesday. The sun even came out halfway through, which I felt truly legitimized my shorts wearing. I stubbornly stuck with shorts the next two freezing days in my attempts to be a true New Englander, but fortunately didn’t need to do much outside.

Other than tend to the chickens that is, who I should mention have more than earned their New England stripes. Talk about hardy! Those ladies have a nice greenhouse coop they could spend their days in but they were out all day Wednesday pecking around in the stiff north wind on a day I don’t think reached above freezing. The greenhouse attached to our house gets up to 90 even on the cold days as long as the sun is out. With more ventilation in their coop, it’s probably 70s in there…which sounds pretty good to me and where I’d be hanging out if I were a chicken.

While the field greens have seen better days, the tunnel greens are flourishing. SO MUCH KALE! Don’t forget to add some green (a lot?) to your Thanksgiving table with our perfect kale. The lettuce is looking great too, and I’ve finally deemed it worthy of harvesting. I’d say they’re just under full-sized, but I need to start moving the 300 or so heads we have (almost) ready to go before the cold gets them. And we have quite the delicious lineup of roots and fruits to choose from A (apples) to W (watermelon radishes). So many in fact that they barely fit on our 20 foot long racks!

Veggie Ordering and Pickup Procedures: Put your veggie orders in online before 8pm Sunday. The website is a little buggy so if you don’t see a wide variety of items or you see items out of stock, try refreshing your browser. Also confirm on checkout that you have the correct number of each item in your cart. The two pickup windows are working well, so we’ll keep it going. Choose your pickup window while checking out online: 1230-2pm and 4-5pm Monday on the farm at 64 Potter Hill Rd in Grafton. Pickups are in the long white garage on the left across from the beat up tan and red barn at the crest of the hill.

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Second Summer

Sadly it seems our mini second summer ended and reality has set in, but I sure did enjoy and take full advantage of it while it lasted. We even went swimming in the neighbor’s pool, and Nora did some streaking to celebrate the end of 45’s presidency (or maybe it was just her being a high-on-life 2 year old). It felt weird cleaning up the garden wearing shorts and a tee, but it sure beats doing it in the bitter cold.

Continuing the bittersweet theme, the second and last round of cows went up north to harvest on Tuesday. We had the most well behaved and gentle cows this year – I may have shed a tear when they left the farm, but I’m proud to offer meat from cows that lived like and were treated like cows and not caged objects. We got the first round of beef back the next day and you can taste the difference. Once fully organized, we will have cuts from ground beef to roasts to steaks to stew for purchase. I did put a couple sampler packs up on the website, and have ground beef there as well. The meat is vacuum-sealed and frozen.

We still have loads of goodness coming out of the fields, and lots more in storage. Hope to see you Monday!

Veggie Ordering and Pickup Procedures: Put your veggie orders in online before 8pm Sunday. The website is a little buggy so if you don’t see a wide variety of items or you see items out of stock, try refreshing your browser. Also confirm on checkout that you have the correct number of each item in your cart. The two pickup windows are working well, so we’ll keep it going. Choose your pickup window while checking out online: 1230-2pm and 4-5pm Monday on the farm at 64 Potter Hill Rd in Grafton. Pickups are in the long white garage on the left across from the beat up tan and red barn at the crest of the hill.

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Mood

I’ve been an anxious, non-functional disaster all week, but this picture pretty much sums up the mood on the top of the hill!

It felt really good this week to get out of the house, away from the constant non-update updates, and get some work done in the sunshine and warmth. If only we had this upcoming absolutely gorgeous weather minus the big freeze, we’d be overrun with goodness. There’s no sugarcoating it – we lost A LOT to the freeze. Although we still have more than enough to get us through till Thanksgiving (thanks in part to a big root pickup from Tangerini’s Farm in Millis), the variety won’t be the same. 

I’m not sure if I would have done things differently had I known the 2″ of snow and 24 degrees forecasted was going to turn into 6.5″ and 17 degrees. Everything I had growing (minus the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant) can handle 17 degrees, as long as they get acclimated to the cold. But it hadn’t been below 32 before then! I technically could have covered everything…but I think it would have all just got smashed down under the covers by all the snow. Plus we were frantically harvesting on Thursday anyway (in the pouring rain) for the Saturday CSA. There certainly would have been a mutiny if I then asked the crew to go back out and start covering everything when we finished!

This will be the first week that I can remember that we won’t have lettuce…since May maybe? That was the biggest blow – we had loads and loads of it out there. There will be lettuce again (looks great in the tunnel), just not for a couple weeks. Similar story for the other greens – I’m hopeful the few perpetual spinach leaves left standing will bounce back. I mowed the heavily damaged spicy salad mix, mustards, and arugula on the outside chance we’ll get enough regrowth to get one more harvest before winter truly settles in. The plants themselves were still alive, but the damage was so widespread that it would have been impossible to dig through the destruction to just find the good leaves. This weather gives me hope that I haven’t had my last arugula of the season!

Veggie Ordering and Pickup Procedures: Put your veggie orders in online before 8pm Sunday. The website is a little buggy so if you don’t see a wide variety of items or you see items out of stock, try refreshing your browser. Also confirm on checkout that you have the correct number of each item in your cart. The two pickup windows are working well, so we’ll keep it going. Choose your pickup window while checking out online: 1230-2pm and 4-5pm Monday on the farm at 64 Potter Hill Rd in Grafton. Pickups are in the long white garage on the left across from the beat up tan and red barn at the crest of the hill.

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Frightful

Yikes, what a scary weekend! A Halloween’s eve snowstorm – apparently Grafton got the highest snowfall in the whole state at 6.5″ – followed by plunging temperatures bottoming out at 17 degrees (in October!) put a damper on Saturday’s final CSA pickup. Not ideal but very much fitting for this season, and 2020 in general. As we’ve done all year, we adapted and somehow made it work – we harvested everything Thursday (in the pouring rain!) and our dedicated CSAers all still got their final share.

And yet all that spookiness of this weekend pales in comparison to what’s on tap the rest of this week – the very real possibility of re-electing the pumpkin in chief to another frightful four years. Get out there and vote y’all!

I’m not sure what all made it through the night, but Halloween was not kind to the garden. It’s very, very unusual to have field tomato plants still alive on a night it hits 17. We skipped lows in the 20s and went straight for the teens! The hardier crops can adjust to temps that low, but a big plunge will shock their poor systems.

So far it looks like the swiss chard and perpetual spinach are goners – I even saw some fried kale leaves, one of the hardiest greens of all that usually stand tall into single digits. From a distance, most of the lettuce looks ok, but I won’t know for sure until it’s fully unburied from the snow. I imagine we’ll lose at least half of it. With all the unknowns, we’re taking this Monday off from harvesting. On the bright side, next week’s weather looks fantastic so we’ll definitely get back to it next week hopefully through Thanksgiving. At the very least, the greens in the tunnel are looking good!

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Anxious

There is much in the world worthy of causing anxiety right now. This recent spate of gorgeous weather shouldn’t be anxiety-inducing, and yet every 70 degree late October day that slips by somehow makes me fret.

Change is coming, I can feel it in the air. No, I’m not optimistically talking about political change…I literally felt winter’s chill in the air tonight while walking the dog. There is so much to do to prep the farm for winter, and yet so much still that we’re harvesting. It’s an endless sprint that will all of a sudden peter out into a winter by the fire with my feet up (ha!)

We took full advantage of this weather to get a million things done. And yet it seems somehow like we hardly made a dent in the winter checklist – there are still potatoes to dig, tomato stakes to pull, cover crop to sow, hoses to store, beds to clean up, and so much more. All while trying to keep up with fall’s bounty. And what else am I forgetting that my frozen hands will be fumbling with just before dark in a biting Potter Hill winter wind?

Although their end is nigh, the flavor of summer can still be enjoyed by our tomatoes of every shape, size, and color. Plus loads of fall flavors too – not to make you anxious too, but get some before it’s too late!

Veggie Ordering and Pickup Procedures: Put your veggie orders in online before 8pm Sunday. The website is a little buggy so if you don’t see a wide variety of items or you see items out of stock, try refreshing your browser. Also confirm on checkout that you have the correct number of each item in your cart. The two pickup windows are working well, so we’ll keep it going. Choose your pickup window while checking out online: 1230-2pm and 4-5pm Monday on the farm at 64 Potter Hill Rd in Grafton. Pickups are in the long white garage on the left across from the beat up tan and red barn at the crest of the hill.

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Boo!

No, I didn’t jump the gun on Halloween. Boo’s back! Nora aka Nora Lu aka LuLu aka BooBoo aka Boo and Jenni just got back from 2.5 weeks away while Jenni studied (and surely aced) a big test. I’ve enjoyed my Paddy and Daddy time immensely, but it’s good to have the family back together!

On the farm, things couldn’t be much better. The invisible rain shield over Grafton seems to have finally failed, temps are perfect, winds are strong as always up here but not extreme (at least not in the last week, I have a short memoery ha). We’ve been picking some of the biggest greens and roots I have ever seen, and they will only get bigger with the 3″ of gentle, sweet rains this week. As long as we avoid this potential frost they’re warning of tonight (Saturday), we’re golden. I’ve had enough tomatoes to last me till next July, but the MIA peppers and eggplant finally made a comeback once the drought subsided a bit, and they’re now loaded with green peppers that I’ve been patiently waiting to turn. If they make it through tonight, I don’t see another potential frost through the 10 day forecast…which would take us right up to….Halloween!

Veggie Ordering and Pickup Procedures: Put your veggie orders in online before 8pm Sunday. The website is a little buggy so if you don’t see a wide variety of items or you see items out of stock, try refreshing your browser. Also confirm on checkout that you have the correct number of each item in your cart. The two pickup windows are working well, so we’ll keep it going. Choose your pickup window while checking out online: 1230-2pm and 4-5pm Monday on the farm at 64 Potter Hill Rd in Grafton. Pickups are in the long white garage on the left across from the beat up tan and red barn at the crest of the hill.

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